Tim Collins summed up the feelings of athletic directors and coaches across the state of Wisconsin with one line this week.
In an emailed announcement about a rescheduled basketball game, the Walworth Big Foot athletic director said:
“It will be a busy day but we are running out of dates, running out of officials and running out of patience.”
Recent snowstorms and this week’s polar vortex cost most area high schoolers four or five days of school cancellations. Three of those five days were busy ones on the high school sports calendar.
Area officials spent much of this week frantically arranging make-up dates with the end of the winter sports season rapidly approaching.
A make-up pileup
Athletic directors are accustomed to dealing with a rash of make-up games during the spring high school sports season.
It’s not rare for early-season snow cover or midseason rains to wipe out a week of sports.
To see such a rash of postponements during the winter slate, however, is rare.
“I’ve never seen anything like it in my 10 years,” said Chris Nicholson, the Janesville School District’s Athletic Assistant.
The weather started wreaking havoc last week. On Jan. 22, most schools called off all after-school activities with a snowstorm looming, and the following day was a snow day.
Events went on as scheduled from Jan. 24 through the weekend, but most area schools were out Monday through Thursday this week, and those that had school any of those days did not allow after-school activities.
“It’s just been a mess,” Nicholson said.
The main difference between winter postponements and spring postponements is practice time.
If snow or rain hampers spring field conditions, teams can still find a way to practice indoors after school. With schools shut down due to winter weather, no practices were to be had after school.
“It’s been a frustrating time as an AD, but probably even moreso as a coach,” said Brodhead High’s Brian Kammerer, who serves as athletic director and head girls basketball coach. “We’d won some games and were starting to build some confidence in our kids, and then we went like five days without being in a gym.”
Kammerer’s Cardinals beat Brodhead on Friday night and hosted McFarland on Saturday afternoon, because it was the last possible time he could schedule that make-up.
Kammerer credited Rock Valley Conference commissioner Ray Vance and Nicholson with helping him to find officials for make-up games.
But, like other coaches, he lamented the loss of consistent practice time this late in the season and said the first games back after the long layoff have been a bit sloppy.
“When you’re a basketball player, you have to practice every single day,” said Parker girls basketball coach Jennah Hartwig, who won a state championship with Parker and went on to play at Wisconsin. “So when they’re off, you’re just left to think, ‘I wonder if they’re doing anything. I hope they’re not just laying on the couch all day.’”
Area wrestling coaches had to be having similar thoughts.
Their teams were supposed to be practicing this week for conference tournaments, which were held Saturday. Not only were their wrestlers not able to get practice time until at least Thursday, but wrestlers were charged with keeping tabs on their weight without any sort of check-in for the better part of a week.
“We hoped to move a couple guys down a weight class, and I’m hoping that with all this sitting around, they can still get down to where we want them to be,” Mullen said earlier this week. “We’ve been trying to get kids to realize how important it is to go and work out and not just sit around.
“But wrestling is a unique sport, because you really need a workout partner and a mat to work on wrestling-type things.”
In the case of the Janesville Craig girls basketball team, the Cougars went 10 days between practices.
They practiced Jan. 21, and the following two days there were no after-school activities. On Jan. 24, they made up a game originally scheduled for Jan. 22, and they played another game Jan. 25. Then came the weekend, followed by four cancellation days.
The oddity for the Parker girls team comes on the game schedule.
The Vikings have played just one game since Jan. 20, and they won’t play again until going to Middleton on Tuesday night. That night will mark the start of five games in 12 days.
“And then depending on seeding, we could possibly play Tuesday (Feb. 19), so that would be six games in two weeks,” Hartwig said. “It’s a lot of basketball.”
Finding a way
Coaches, athletic directors and referees have been forced to get a little creative in figuring out make-ups.
In Janesville, Nicholson said the coaches are tasked with initially trying to determine a makeup date after consulting with the opposing coach. But Nicholson gives them some guidance when necessary.
“For some reason, everyone in the area was trying to reschedule to Feb. 5,” Nicholson said. “I finally had to email our coaches and tell them not to schedule that day because there are no officials left.”
Nicholson said he advised coaches to try and reschedule for Mondays or Wednesdays, which are typically lighter nights on the schedule. Wednesdays have typically been held open as church nights over the years, but with just two weeks left in the regular season there are few other options. Craig will host La Follette in girls basketball Wednesday night.
Officiating crews are also signing up to work doubleheaders to help get games in. The same three-person crew worked both the Edgerton-Whitewater boys basketball game and the Evansville-Whitewater girls basketball game Friday night.
Kammerer said he’s heard of crews picking up a Saturday afternoon game at one location and driving to another nearby spot to ref a game on a Saturday night.
“Working back-to-back varsity games is not easy on your body,” said Nicholson, who also officiates games. “But that’s where we’re at.”
The Janesville district also relaxed its stance Thursday about not allowing practice on days when there was no school. With temperatures rising back above 0 degrees, practices were allowed from noon until 6 p.m., but players’ attendance was not mandatory.
Beyond those measures, it’s easy to envision athletic directors everywhere frantically refreshing forecasts with their fingers crossed over the next couple weeks.